A liberal Korean writer with a white conservative boyfriend discovers why the GOP is so eagerly appropriating Asian culture.
I promise that what I’m about to tell you is not from The Onion. There is an Asian Republican Coalition (ARC), and it appears to consist of the run-of-the-mill Republicans that appear on Fox News: silver-haired white men in good suits, flanked by rafts of attractive white women. In order to be “inclusive,” the ARC’s co-chair, Thomas Britt, declared this group is “open to all Americans.” Because they are a generous organization, they will extend their membership to include one Asian—the ARC’s other chair, John Ying.
If the organization’s own photos are any indication, its target demographic seems to be “those of us like me [Britt] who are not ethnically Asian but have spent twenty years living in Hong Kong.” The Asian Republican Coalition also welcomes Americans (read “white men”) who are married to Asians or doing business in Asia. According to this logic, Nicolas Cage, who is married to Alice Kim, and Woody Allen, who is married to Soon-Yi Previn, are now Asian. So is investment banker Tim Leissner, who is Kimora Lee Simmons’s new husband. Though she’s only half-Korean, her fashion line sells in Singapore, wherefore she is Asian—and so is her husband by extension. Insofar as corporations are persons, I guess that retailers that import goods from China, such as Walmart and Hobby Lobby, are now Chinese people.
“Guess what, bunny?” I gleefully told my Yankee Republican boyfriend. “Thanks to your party’s new outreach program, you’re Korean!” He grunted absently and continued cleaning his revolver. Because as far as he’s concerned, he’s not Asian. I’m white.
Oh, yeah. I forgot about that.
For a while now, I’ve been hearing that Asians are white, but all of a sudden, it’s become a thing. In my bland past, I’ve been mistaken for a daughter of the South and called “white” by my allergist, who continued to insist that I was wrong when I corrected him in between sneezes. On more than one occasion, I’ve been told to “go back where I came from” and, hilariously, that I need to “learn how to speak English.” I chalked this up to the fact that I speak prep-school patois, which to American ears sounds vaguely British.
It had all settled into a fairly predictable routine, with me navigating the weird waters between “We like your kind!” and “You’re ruining the country!” Then last month, the Asian Republican Coalition turned white businessmen into their Asian wives, setting loose the Hounds of Snark on the Internet. On its heels came the revelation that the New York Times decided there were too many “non-Hispanic whites”—i.e., Asians—working at Google. I read the piece several times and found the double-ungood phraseology nearly impossible to parse. Thankfully, minds greater than mine put it through the magic decoder ring, and out spit the statement: Asians are now white.
What’s going on here? Just a few years ago, California Democrat Dan Adler ran for a special seat in Congress, and produced an ad so cheerfully weird that I thought it was an SNL sketch, which plays out like this:
Adler saunters into a Laundromat, and talks to a woman who angrily declares: “I have issues! Medicare! I’m Korean!”
He responds: “My wife is Korean too!” (Subtext: I am one with you!)
Dumbfounded, she blurts: “You’re Jewish!”
Adler says: “My family is Jewish!” (But I’m not! My soul is Korean!)
His message: “We minorities should stick together!”
Power in numbers, OK. Even though Adler’s a Disney executive, in his heart he’s a member of the great unwashed. Clumsily appealing to the working class on the basis of social “issues,” his campaign fell flat. He didn’t make it past the runoff.
The Asian Republican Coalition, by contrast, doesn’t care about Laundromat Asians. It’s targeting the jet-set that appears in Kevin Kwan’s bestselling book, Crazy Rich Asians, soon to be a major motion picture starring actual Asian people. So far, the ARC doesn’t seem very interested in Asian-Americans—even though this particular minority group has the fastest-rising household income of any other demographic in the United States, including whites. Right now, according to Bloomberg Business News, the number of Asians in the U.S. surged 43.3 percent during the last decade, about four times faster than white population growth, to more than 17 million. Their ranks have more than doubled since 1990. Median household income has risen 2.3 percent to $70,815 for Asians since 2000 while white Americans have suffered a 1.1 percent drop.
Unlike the African-American and Hispanic votes, which are viewed as being so strongly Democratic as to be a lost cause for Republicans, the Asian-American vote is seen as being up for grabs. Percentage-wise, the Asian-American vote is tiny, but Republicans also see Asians as rightfully theirs due to aligned cultural values.
But if it is true that older generations of Asian-Americans often hold “very conservative political beliefs,” Arthur Chu commented to me, “this means their patriotism/nationalism is very likely to be focused on their home country, not the US of A.” The more “American” the Asian, in other words, the more likely that individual is to hold liberal/progressive values. So if the point of establishing an outreach coalition is to bring Asian-Americans back to the GOP, consider the postmortem of the Romney loss conducted by The American Conservative. It concluded that the main reason for the growing support for Democrats among members of this electoral bloc is that that younger and more educated Asian-Americans are drifting by large numbers to Obama’s party, very much like younger and more educated white Americans.
The Weekly Standard alleged that Obama had carried the Asian-American vote due to “women’s rights, health care, education, immigration, jobs, and foreign policy. Romney’s only advantage was a small one on the budget deficit.” It would maybe be useful, Republicans, to think about addressing some of those issues in ways that don’t raise the hairs on the back of my neck, if you would like my vote in the next presidential election.
But this data comes as China is poised to outstrip the U.S. as the world’s largest economy, a momentous shift certainly happening sometime during the 21st century, affirms Steven Strauss, and it maybe even within this decade.
The Asian Republican Coalition isn’t interested in “white” people like me, because I’m poor as a church mouse and ask annoying questions about institutional racism and structural inequality. They’re interested in “Asians” like my boyfriend, who is a corporate lawyer whose firm deals with crazy rich people, or like my one-percenter friends who buy buildings wherever they damn well please. The problem for the “big tent” rhetoric is that they’re already Republicans.
It’s fun to consider what would happen if I married the ex–Mrs. Rupert Murdoch, Wendy Deng, who is Chinese from China and neither Democrat or Republican. In theory, I would be “Asian” again, and she would become an American. If she was the “man” in the relationship, she could say, “My wife is Korean!” making her one with the people. This scenario makes my boyfriend very happy. So, Wendy Deng, if you’re out there and reading this: Will you marry me?
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